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Jasper Tour Company is an Indigenous-owned boutique tour operator that caters to small groups and offers personalized tour experiences in Jasper National Park. Tours include the opportunity to see incredible scenery and wildlife in Jasper while learning the Indigenous names for the animals and the Indigenous history of the park.

Owned by Joe Urie, a proud member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, tours with Jasper Tour Company tell a bigger story and help guests feel a fundamental connection to the wildlife and this incredibly beautiful landscape.

We interviewed Urie about what helped his business stay resilient during the challenges of COVID-19, and how tourism in Alberta can recover and grow even stronger post-pandemic.

What helped you stay resilient over the past year, and how has your business evolved?

Part 1: Indigenous Tourism Alberta (ITA) and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). These excellent organizations have been instrumental in helping not only my company, the Jasper Tour Company, but Indigenous tourism operators strengthen our resilience. 

The Jasper Tour Company is a Métis-owned company. Indigenous people have always been resilient. Our ancestors have survived here forever. They also survived the debilitating horrors of what came after contact. And we will survive this. 

ITA and ITAC, our relatively young organizations, are the result of partnerships with governance, both provincially and federally, and partnerships with other government-funded organizations like Travel Alberta. We have been and will continue to be stronger together, but it is my belief that the sector of tourism that is Indigenous needs to continue to be Indigenous-led and supported as such, taking our cues not so much from governance, as was the case in the past, but from the providers of our own experiences, which ultimately is us, the Indigenous people of these lands.


I also believe in the Spirit of Treaty. And I believe that if we all honour that spirit, as we all should have since contact, we will all come through this. Together.

Joe Urie, Owner, Jasper Tour Company

Part 2: The Jasper Tour Company didn’t really need to evolve as much we needed to stay true to who we are. We also are of the belief that others might do better for themselves if they devolve. This idea of endless economic growth – this mantra of more, more, more – becomes exposed as a false God in times of economic turmoil such as the times brought on by this pandemic.

The Jasper Tour Company is a boutique experience and we have always been content to remain one. Along with support from our partners at ITA and ITAC, our business model has also helped keep us resilient in the face of these uncertain and trying economic times.

Faces of tourism alberta - Jasper Tour Company
Joe Urie, Owner, Jasper Tour Company

Our growth has always been more about continuing to educate ourselves, an education which we, in turn, pass on to those seeking experience. We have always been satisfied with what we have, and we have resisted the enormous opportunities to build something bigger, despite the dollar signs floating all about us. We chose a path which favoured quality of life over money, and we are proud to say that while we will never be millionaires, we are lifestyle millionaires! While others have spent so much of their time chasing the almighty buck and acquiring “stuff,” we, a family of five, have chased each other. Now, in times as tumultuous as this, the success of our strategy has become even more evident than we thought it to be in the first place.

There will always be a place for the little guy. That’s us. Giants may fall and their businesses may fail. We just need to be sure they don’t land on us if and when they do.

With health and travel restrictions in place since the start of the pandemic, many businesses realized the importance of having a strong digital strategy – easy-to-navigate websites, user-friendly e-commerce opportunities, and staying connected with customers on social media. What was the best new digital strategy you implemented (or saw implemented) this year?

I may come across as being partial, but I thought that the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada’s “Virtually yours” campaign was absolutely amazing, from the campaign they developed for more conventional means like television, to the shorter breakout pieces that they shared across all social media platforms.

The way the Indigenous peoples of this land now called Canada wanted to ensure Canadians that they would make it through these uncertain times and that we, the original people of the land, would be waiting for them on the other side, was an excellent message. A soothing message.

It spoke at first to the heart of Indigenous Tourism, which is us, and then how our hearts went out to them.

It was a message that carried with it a feeling of solidarity, for all Canadians, which is a powerful message when it comes from a group of people who, for so much of our shared history, have been compromised by those we believed we were going to share the future with. Equally.

What are your hopes for the future of Alberta’s tourism industry? How will your business play a role in that?

My hopes are that Indigenous Tourism’s role will continue to grow and that it will eventually become the full partner it should be, taking its rightful place alongside Travel Alberta as leaders in Alberta’s Tourism economy. The Jasper Tour Company will continue to promote not only itself, but more importantly, as we always have, other experiences around the province that align with our sensibilities.

How can industry work together to recover and build even stronger post-pandemic?

Partnerships are key to the success of the industry’s recovery and furthering Alberta’s Tourism profile post-pandemic, but only if they are meaningful and reciprocal.

It starts with leadership at the highest levels, and it trickles down from there. Travel Alberta has caught a big fish in David Goldstein. Just as ITA has in Shae Bird. ITAC has Keith Henry. They’re all keepers. Don’t throw them back. All these people understand and are huge proponents of the power of Indigenous Tourism.

One of Shae Bird’s strengths is that he stays in touch and is up-to-date with even the smallest operator in ITA’s catalogue, and he ensures their voices are just as loud as the biggest players. It is courteous and shows a level of concern and respect not often seen in other organizations and it’s a wise move for one as young as Mr. Bird.

I have great respect for that as it’s not something I’ve seen a lot of here in the industry. I understand how important it is for bodies who promote tourism to keep in step with the biggest players, but I cannot stress enough that harmony from the top to the bottom is still paramount.

It is my opinion that the industry would do well to be more harmonious than it has been in the past.

What is the most important thing you want Albertans to know about the value of the province’s tourism industry?


I believe that the best providers of experiences in Alberta’s tourism industry do not ultimately measure value in dollar signs. Economic success is certainly an important byproduct of the thing we value the most, which is the smile on your face after you’ve experienced what we have to offer. That smile is born of an authentic experience. What we need to value the most is authenticity.

Joe Urie, Owner, Jasper Tour Company

Albertans have played a key role in keeping many tourism businesses afloat during the pandemic. Why should Albertans continue to explore the province even when it’s possible to travel elsewhere?

Aside from her incredible natural beauty?

The onset of the pandemic has exposed divisions in Albertans which, unfortunately, has resulted in an extraordinary amount of derision. Those divisions have been exploited politically and socially at times, which has served to escalate the derision and that, in turn, served to widen the divide growing between many of us.

Albertans are as diverse as the topography and geology of the land that we call home. Despite that, we are a lot more alike than we think we are or have been led to believe.

Albertans should continue to explore this place and not just because I believe in the inherent value and beauty of the very lands we have the good fortune to live upon, but because I believe it will go a long way in unifying a people who have been fed a line by self-serving individuals.

We need to discover more Alberta.

More importantly, we need to discover Albertans.

Which is to say we need to discover each other.

Let’s do that.

And when we do, let’s start at the beginning. Welcome to Indigenous Tourism.

What do you wish the rest of the world knew about tourism in Alberta?

Before the pandemic, the world was hungering for Indigenous experiences when they travelled. ITAC and its provincial affiliates such as ITA, along with partners such as Travel Alberta and Destination Canada, were doing an excellent job spreading the word. Canada, and conversely, Alberta, was fast becoming a world leader in promoting Indigenous experiences. 

My wish is that all these bodies will continue to work harmoniously towards telling the world about Alberta’s world-class, Indigenous-led, Alberta-supported tourism experiences. People can and will still clamour for other non-Indigenous experiences, but they can now be coupled with the first stories and experiences of this land.

Pardon the Alberta pun but now is not the time to take our foot off the gas.

I thank Alberta for recognizing this.

Faces of tourism alberta - Jasper Tour Company

What is your favourite memory of travelling in Alberta?

I cannot choose one. But I can pinpoint an emotion that travelling throughout Alberta has given rise to within me. I have made an effort to experience much of this province and I have come to places where I have stopped to put my feet on the ground. To dig my fingers into the soil.

There, in those places, I have heard the land speak to me. Her voice was often hidden in the voices of the First Peoples of this land. Some of them were my own people. They are those people who first understood what she was saying. And their own languages were born of her voice.

This emotion is born of the Indigenous experience.

But it also bears fruit with many of the non-Indigenous experiences connected to this land. Despite not originating here, they have grown a love for this place that is true and authentic.

And that, more than anything, is key.

Authenticity, the key without which you cannot truly open the door to Alberta.

What is your favourite “hidden gem” in Alberta?

Métis Crossing. Full stop.

This is an experience that people need to have. And it’s only an hour and a half northeast of Edmonton. It is an excellent opportunity to learn through experiential tourism, something of the Métis people. Outside of Louis Riel and the way Canada has erroneously told that part of our history, our culture is something of a mystery to most Canadians and the rest of the world. Métis Crossing is a fantastic opportunity to pull back this awkward veil to reveal the true beauty of the children of the fur trade and their descendants, we the Métis Nation of Canada.

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